Is there any integrity/plagiarism issue if I use ideas I developed/argued in my master's essays and dissertation in the PhD proposal? Can I do this? What can I do to prevent potential problems?

Edit: none of those essays or dissertation are published, if this helps clarifying. So even that they're not published, I should cite myself as I would with published work?


2 Answers 2


You may use the ideas for your PhD proposal. Ideas, unless patented, are free and can be passed between people, projects, institutions, etc.

However, do make sure that the source of the original idea is attributed. Particularly when other people contributed to the ideas, attribution is due (from an ethical point of view).

This might be done in the following way: 'I propose to investigate the method that was developed by my supervisor , my lab partner , and myself, described in my master thesis [reference], in the following way ...'

I would certainly advise to reference your master thesis (even if it is not publicly available), since it is a perfect source where the ideas can be found in an elaborate written form.


I don't see any problem with it as long as:

  1. Ideas in your Master's essays and dissertation are truly your ideas. If your Master's supervisor was a substantial contributor to the development of those ideas, you could run into issues.
  2. Your Master's ideas should ideally have been substantiated by researchers outside if your group (in the form of citations or similar work).
  3. You've asked your Master's supervisor if you can pitch expanding on your Master's work as part of your proposal.

Best to check all the angles at this stage, than deal with a very big headache later.

  • 5
    Since when do you need your Master's supervisor's permission to extend your own Master's thesis? Why would you need anyone's permission to extend any published work? Give credit (cite!!) where credit is due, but I don't see the need for permission.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 18:07
  • If you're looking to conserve academic integrity, and the PhD supervisor is different than the Masters supervisor. Extending work in a new research group based on work done in a previous group would benefit from a conversation. Citations are just the baseline and go without saying. Can you imagine if there was intellectual property issues that came up during this scenario? Sophia is just starting the PhD. There is no reason not to mention it to their Master's supervisor as a bare minimum. Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 18:52
  • 2
    Citations should never go without saying. They must be done, but people have to be told to do them. I don't see a problem with having a conversation, but most of the time, I can't see needing permission, especially for published work.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 19:45

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